Nutrition Articles

Healthy & Fun Lunch Ideas for Kids

Think Outside the Lunch Box Next Time You Pack

Make it Delicious
Even if you did pack a cottage-cheese-stuffed bell pepper and a bran muffin, that doesn't necessarily mean that it made its way to your child's tummy. This lunch might please your palate, but younger taste buds aren't generally so adventurous. And if they don't like it, they probably won't eat it—especially if you're not around. The best way to ensure that lunch ends up where it should is to recruit some help when packing it. Research shows kids enjoy food more if they've helped in its preparation. Besides letting them chop and bag, there are many ways to get them involved:
  • Let your child choose what to pack. If you're afraid to let her choose what goes in the box for fear it will consist entirely of junk food, then let her choose between a few different approved items.
  • Create a menu. Work with your child to come up with a list of foods he'd be happy to see in his lunchbox. Categorize them into food groups, and let your child pick an item from each group to pack. This way they have guidelines AND a choice. Keep a running list of ideas (yours and your child's), so that you can liven up the menu periodically.
  • Don't overlook last-night';s dinner. Did your child really love the veggie pizza you had for dinner last night? Leftovers save time and make a great lunch.
  • Respect individual tastes. If you're packing for multiple children, keep in mind that what works for one may not work for another.
  • Allow periodic splurges. If you&'ve got a die-hard chocoholic on your hands, allow the occasional treat, as long as he or she is eating healthy most of the time.
  • Take the work out of lunch. Some schools give kids as little as 20 minutes to eat lunch, so peel, chop, seed, and spread in advance. They';ll be more likely to eat that juicy orange if it's already peeled.
  • Only pack foods that have passed the test. If they've never tried nori rolls, don't pack them until they gain approval.
  • Discuss the other leftovers. If you pack the carrot sticks and your child tosses them, no one benefits. Make sure that your child is actually eating their entire lunch—if not, then don't pack so much. Ask her to bring home the leftovers so you can modify portion sizes next time.
Make it Safe
No matter how nutritious and delicious your child's lunch may be, it could cause her harm if it is not prepared and stored according to food safety guidelines. To ensure that your child's egg salad sandwich is Staphylococcus-free, follow these guidelines.
  • Always wash your hands (and your child’s if he’s helping!) prior to handling food.
  • Make sure all preparation surfaces are clean to avoid cross-contamination.
  • If you are cooking food that will be eaten cold, allow enough time to chill it thoroughly prior to packing. 
  • If you are packing your child’s lunch in a reusable bag or box, make sure it has been washed in warm soapy water after each use.  
  • Keep perishable food out of the “danger zone”. Harmful bacteria multiply quickly between the temperatures of 40°F and 140°F. 
  • To keep cold foods cold, refrigerate lunches until you’re ready to walk out the door, and include an ice pack with perishable items. 
  • To keep hot foods hot, fill an insulated thermos with boiling water, let stand 5 minutes. While you are waiting, bring the food to a boil, empty the thermos, and then pour in the hot food. Keep it closed until lunchtime to keep it safe.
  • Some foods that don’t require an ice pack include fruits, vegetables, trail mix, breads, hard cheeses, canned foods (as long as they are consumed immediately upon opening), nut butters, jelly, mustard, and pickles. 
Although packing lunches may take a little more time than handing your kids a fistful of cash as they dart out the front door, it is also an opportunity to teach nutrition and planning skills, and to connect with your kids. Research shows that kids who eat healthy throughout childhood are more likely to be healthy adults, and packing a healthy lunch is yet another way to promote this behavior.

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! With "A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches," you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real moms in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time! Bonus: You'll also get 25 healthy, kid-friendly after-school snack ideas! Click here to check it out!

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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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